It’s Not Just CBD: Isolate, Full Spectrum Hemp Oil and the Entourage EffectHyla Cass, MD
What you’ll learn
- What is the Entourage Effect and why it is so powerful
- The differences between CBD isolate, full spectrum hemp oil extract, and broad spectrum , all generally referred to as CBD. It can be confusing!
- How to choose the best form of CBD for you
In the world of holistic medicine and healthy eating, we talk about how whole, unprocessed foods are better than the processed, nutritionally devoid non-foods found in so many grocery store aisles. The same is true for all plant medicines. For example, in my book St. John’s Wort: Natural Blues Buster, I explain why we use a whole plant extract instead of relying on just the isolated “marker,” like hypericin. Ie it includes hypericin and all the other healing phytochemicals (i.e. plant chemicals).
Full Spectrum Hemp Oil Extract works in a similar way.
While we often refer to it as CBD for short, full spectrum hemp oil extract, is really much more than that. Unlike pure CBD, it incorporates multiple parts of the hemp plant, giving it a more powerful effect on the body at smaller dose than CBD alone. Why? Because of something called the entourage effect.
To understand the entourage effect, you first need to know a little bit about hemp chemistry and history.
When people talk about hemp, they usually talk about its most famous cannabinoids, CBD and THC, but, while they are the most abundant, they are not the only phytochemicals found in hemp. Hemp naturally produces over 100 cannabinoids, all of which have a unique impact on the body’s endocannabinoid system, as well as terpenes, healing compounds that give hemp its specific aroma.
Out of these compounds, CBD has emerged as one of the most powerful, making it the natural focus of scientific research.
Research on CBD has followed the usual pharmaceutical method: isolating the active ingredient (in this case, CBD) from its plant base and testing it without the other compounds that naturally occur with it. This is like judging the quality of a basketball team based on one player’s performance. Yes, without terpenes and other cannabinoids present, you can tell CBD can play a good game, but to really see what it can do, it other cannabinoids and terpenes need to be on the court.
Using CBD isolate, researchers did find that CBD had a therapeutic effect—multiple studies have shown that CBD can significantly reduce irritability, discomfort, PMS, and much more. But dosing has to be in a specific range, not too little, and not too much, to achieve the desired impact. You can visualize this relationship between dose and response plotted along a bell curve: an upside down U that peaks in the middle, that’s the maximum effect, then slopes downward as you move to the left or right, that’s the effect tapering off as the dose gets bigger or smaller. So, you’ll get relief at a certain dose, but go beyond that, and the symptom returns.
Use CBD in the presence of the other phytochemicals, and it’s a different story. In 2015, a group of researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem conducted a study that compared CBD isolate with full spectrum hemp oil extract. The results were very clear.
Researchers administered a brand of CBD-rich full spectrum hemp oil extracted called Avidekel to mice and observed its effect on inflammation, pain, and tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNFa). TNFa is an inflammatory signaling molecule that’s implicated in such conditions as cancer, clinical depression, Alzheimer’s and irritable bowel syndrome, making it of particular interest. The results were compared against a control group of mice that received only CBD isolate.
What they found: full spectrum hemp oil extract created a notably superior dose-response relationship. Avidekel is a well-regarded strain, containing 1.5-2% THC, 15-16% CBD, and assorted lesser components, for the entourage effect. Note that the amount of THC here is higher than the 0.3% allowed in US products.
Instead of the therapeutic effects of CBD dropping off after a certain dose as with CBD isolate, with full spectrum hemp oil extract they only grew stronger as the dose increased until the maximum effect was achieved. At this point, the effect still didn’t drop off, but plateaued as researchers continued to increase the dose. The dose-response relationship was not longer a bell curve. With full spectrum hemp oil extract, it became linear.
graphic is a visual aid and does not reflect specific study results
And that’s not all. If you read studies on CBD, CBD isolate often requires a higher dose than full spectrum hemp oil extract to achieve a therapeutic benefit. The higher dose increases the incidence of side effects like sleep disruption and digestive upset. This is important to understand, whether determining your own dose of CBD or if you’re a health professional determining a dose for a client.
What the Hebrew University study captures is the essence of the entourage effect. When multiple cannabinoids act together with the various terpenes, they do not just have an additive effect—it’s better than that. The phytochemicals work together to create an overall effect greater than the sum of its parts.
The entourage effect has massive medical implications. Take Dravet’s Syndrome, a debilitating childhood seizure disorder, for example. Full spectrum hemp oil saved the life of Charlotte Figi, a young girl who was debilitated by Dravet’s Syndrome. Before using full spectrum hemp oil, she experienced 350 seizures a week. Once she was on the latter, her seizures went down to occasional! Then GW Pharma, makers of Sativex (which contains THC), created a plant-based CBD isolate called Epidiolex. While a boon to those needing it, and choosing to go through conventional medical channels, this product has some drawbacks not found in the full spectrum product, two of them being the side effect profile and the expense.
So, how do you select the best hemp product that takes advantage of the entourage effect? Hemp oil products exist on a gradient of refinement. On one end is hemp seed oil, the health food product you can use on your salads or in smoothies, which has some health benefits but not in the categories we’ve been discussing here. Then there is Full Spectrum hemp oil extract, which contains other cannabinoids including under .3% THC to be legally called CBD or CBD extract, and terpenes, harnessing the power of the entourage effect. Then there is Broad Spectrum hemp oil extract that has had the THC removed. In the process, other cannabinoids can be pulled out along with it. Finally, there is is CBD isolate, which, as you know, is pure CBD. Being fat-soluble, THC can accumulate in the fat cells and show up in testing. So the latter two extracts are useful for those who cannot afford to show any THC on a random drug test. To be really safe, your best bet here is an isolate that has been augmented with terpenes to enhance its potency and efficacy. So you get the entourage effect without the risk of a positive drug test.